Another world class attraction

As you probably know I was in London last week and spent a little time ‘being a tourist’ with my son Jak.

We ‘did’ Tate Modern and St Pauls but then went on the London Eye. The Eye attraction now has a 4D theatre experience before your flight. This is 3D television where you get wet…

I find it difficult now to go to this sort of thing without analysing it against some of the other world class attractions I ‘studied’ for the Sheriff’s Commission – notably on my trip to the USA in 2009. Thats not to say I didn’t enjoy the flight – I did, I thought it was great.

The weather helped as we had great visibility.

The concept is really simple – cart people up (slowly) to 135m high and then back down again.

The central spindle holds the wheel structure and the hub rotates it around the spindle. At 23 meters tall, the spindle is around the size of a church spire and, together with the hub, weighs in at 330 tonnes; over 20 times heavier than Big Ben. There are 32 capsules – each of which weighs 10 tonnes – they travel at 26cm per second. The circumference of the wheel is 424m.

Our self-imposed test of a world-class attraction was a million visitors each year. The London Eye gets 3.75m….

What came back to me about some of the lessons we learned was that we love to go up in the air and look down on our fellow human beings or buildings.

It’s a great attraction!

Nottingham : a top liveable 25 city by 2011?

One of my favourite printed magazines is Monocle; I sometimes pick it up for the office, but last week took it on holiday. It is a weighty tome – and you need a few hours to pick your way through it.

It was good edition to buy – as they published the ‘liveable cities index‘ for 2010.

I was sad to see that Nottingham didn’t make the list, but then not one UK City did! We need to put this right immediately – or at least in time for the 2011 survey.

Liveable City, according to Monocle is

“urban settlements where human life can thrive because they are easy to navigate, diverse, pulsating and full of opportunities”. Easy then!

Munich came out top with Copenhagen and Zurich in second and third respectively.

What Monacle don’t do is print you a convenient tick list against which you are measured. You need to read between the lines, I will have a go at the headlines…

Transport – this features highly, whether it be the airport, public transport or cylcing. Reducing the reliance on the car is clearly a big factor. Easy to say but difficult to achieve…

Public Space – the winning cities all have a familiar theme – there are public spaces where people can walk, relax and play. Please walk on the grass!

Art / culture / technology – these intertwined things are an important part of the Cities life. Galleries can inspire people. But inspiration isn’t enough on its own – we need to create opportunities. Culturally you have to be diverse. We need to make it easy for people to start businesses and keep them running…

Food – when we were in the USA last year with the Sheriff of Nottingham we quickly spotted that ‘food’ was a key component to making something work well. The presence of an eclectic mix of restautrants – from Michelen starred establishments, to basic street cafes.

Sport – both watching and taking part are important in the mix of a City. People feel good if they are taking part or watching winners; they feel great if they are winning…

Ambitious and proud – the Cities featured had some familiar themes – they had ambition or were competitive (on a national and international stage). But critically their citizens were ‘proud’ – and this is a hard won badge.

Looking at this list, I don’t see that it is out of reach for Nottingham. In some ways we are ‘there’. I’m not saying we couldn’t do better – we could. But we have a great platform to work from.

Anyone up for the challenge?

p.s it was noted that there is a ‘chain’ index and the number of Starbucks is one of the measures. Shutting them down won’t help my cause..

Isle of Wight – trip 2

For the second time in 2010 I have found myself ‘abroad’ on the Isle of Wight. But this time I wasn’t at the festival, but a day tripper – via the ferry from Lymington to Yarmouth.

The crossing is shorter than my usual Southampton to East Cowes trip – and the ferries are nicer too – partly as they are newer (built 2007). AT £42 this is one of the most expensive crossings (mile for mile) in the world! (p.s. I am not a ferry anorak!)

It was a whistle-stop tour of the Island – taking in Newport (and lunch at the excellent Quay Arts), coffee in West Cowes, the chain ferry across the Medina and then to the south of the Island to Freshwater Bay. The latter is a peaceful place where I remember last swimming in the sea; to have a wash from one of my early festival trips! Sadly Dimbola Lodge was closed as I would have liked to have visited the Julia Margaret Cameron house and exhibition.

But for the second day we had The Needles in view and for the lat hour of our day headed off to Alum Bay – expecting to be able to get close to these Mariners nightmare rocks.

We found Alum bay; it was awful. I was back in ‘world class attractions’ mode. It must be somewhere near the bottom. It is commercialism at it worst. A funfair of sorts – but one stuck in time. It was like something from a1950′s horror movie. It reminded me of a rather nasty version of Coney Island in New York. All it needed was the two-headed woman freak show.

But we then thought about heading up the path to The Needles – now owned by The National Trust. It closed at 4.30pm – the time they stopped charging you £4.65 to get in. when I say ‘get in’ I mean walk along the coastal path…

Again, as I blogged about yesterday - we seem to miss opportunities. Commercial tat on the one hand and expensive rip-off on the other… I think I will go back to Coney Island – they do commercialism so much better!

Bucklers Hard – a missed opportunity

As I blogged about yesterday I am on holiday in Hampshire – in a very nautical part of the world.

Bucklers Hard

Earlier i n the week we headed out to Bucklers Hard – part of the Beaulieu Estate and one of three settlements on the Beaulieu River. It reminded me very much of Plimouth near Boston in the USA.

I was back in ‘world class visitor‘ mode – and my initial impressions were good. The coffee shop was quite reasonable – less than £10 for three drinks and three ‘healthy’ snacks! It was then £16 to get into the visitor centre – which was ok. £3 for a glossy visitor guide was also reasonable.

But then it sort of fell apart.

The exhibition contains some interesting artefacts – including some from Sir Francis Chichesters round the world voyage in 1967 (he had a berthing at Bucklers Hard). But after this it was little bit ‘papier mache’ models of the sort that brought down Nottingham’s Tales of Robin Hood. Lots of (impressive) models of ships constructed at the dock but far too many static panels. It was also quite ‘stuffy’.

The old village ‘street’ is immaculately maintained – and the Chapel of St Mary is impressive. But you quickly realised that most of the people had found another way in – either from the yachting pontoons or simply from the pub (which you can freely access from the road).

By this time it was too late of course. I had parted with my money – perhaps to a good cause; keeping the village free of development.

But I came away feeling slightly disappointed. Not because of the money, but because we had seen a similar proposition in America – which had been done brilliantly. There were no stuffed dummies – the people were real and in character. And I couldn’t help but think Bucklers Hard could have been so much better without too much effort!

A missed opportunity I think.

The Sheriff’s Commission – 12 months on

I attended the advisory panel meeting of the Sheriff’s Commission last Friday. It was held at Loxley House – a fitting location!

The Commission celebrated it’s birthday and it was time to look back on the year – and forwards into the future.

Firstly, there was a review of the things that have been achieved:

1. Without doubt the biggest achievement has been the recognition by the Council that Robin Hood has a massive role to play in the City. This was not the case when we set out…
2. As a result of this recognition, the City has reclaimed Robin Hood and we now proudly claim that this is the Home of Robin Hood. The logo above is a small but important part of this strategy.
3. The work done in the USA and elsewhere (looking at what makes a World Class Attraction) has been well received and sets the benchmark for the aspirations of the City. This is not nebulous, it is a real aspiration – it is acknowledged that if Nottingham is to ‘get this right’ it has to be done well.
4. The Robin Hood film captured the imagination of the Public and (hopefully) the sequel will keep Nottingham on the map. Spending on gifts with a Robin Hood theme were up 83% in the week of the film premiere. Nottingham hosted a Gala screening which attracted media attention from around the World.
5. The Robin Hood month in May was a huge success – visitor numbers at the Castle were up, spending in the shops was up.
6. A Robin Hood trail complete with new visuals will be in place in Nottingham shortly. (These have been done by my mate John Lyle and are really good)

But the real trick now is to move forward. The ideas are still coming forward about keeping the momentum going – in all sorts of areas. This includes long term aspirations for a Visitor Attraction, educational materials for schools, ongoing events (like the Robin Hood month) and the continuation of marketing and merchandising…

Graham Allen MP was present at the meeting and he spoke passionately about his aspirations for the City.

I have some disappointment that we are not further on, but it was said that “good things come to those who wait“. We have gained some momentum – we need to keep it going! I genuinely believe that we have won some hearts and minds and that we are in a better place than we were 12 months ago. There is much work to be done, but we have made a great start.

Alton Towers – an (expensive) day out

On Friday last week we closed our office for the day. This was a first – and an opportunity to thank the staff for their hard work over the last two years – when trading conditions have been tough. We headed off to Alton Towers on a Corporate ticket.

Queue nicely - and give me your money!

So this was my second trip to Alton Towers. The first time was when I was three.

We had a corporate treasure hunt and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves. But I had another self-imposed task. As a keen observer of world class attractions this was a golden opportunity! The work I have done with the Sheriff’s Commission has taken me to the USA and to other parts of the UK. I think I have developed a sense of what works and what doesn’t – I gave a presentation to the Commission after our USA trip.

I used 17 words to describe out USA trip, but for Alton Towers I need just two.

“Queue” and “Money”.

We did have some distractions in the day (a treasure hunt), but I managed two rides. The queue on “Rita” took an hour. Some of the queue boards for other rides showed 90 minutes. This is ridiculous. You can of course beat them, but that involves….money.

It’s £38 to get in on an adult ticket and £29 for kids. This is the on the gate price – and you can do deals for booking online in advance. But once you are inside it’s all about money. To skip the queues you can buy a pass for £9. Ice creams and Lager were £2.85 and £3.50 respectively – I know… I had both! Photographs from the rides were £8 each. And then you pay £5 to park!

Rides exit through shops – meaning the kids get tempted to part with their parents cash.

Realistically, if you are a family of four, budget to be spending £200+ That’s a lot for a ‘day out’?

They get 2.8 million visitors a year – the second biggest draw in the UK. 2010 is their 30th year of operation.

I have to say I came away slightly disappointed. I don’t like queuing at the best of times, and I dislike the feeling of being ripped off. Both featured highly, so I suspect this will be my last trip to Alton Towers…

Castles – magical places?

I was reminded when watching Countryfile last night about, amongst other things, the magical nature of English Castles. The team were at Bamburgh Castle in Northumberland. Its history can be traced back to 547 and it seemed to have a thriving visitor attraction.

Nottingham Castle

It is also the site of an archaeological dig – tracing back the history of the castle. It was fascinating to see that the volunteers had found a die and some games dating back 1000 years. Their website proclaims, “Bamburgh – the finest castle anywhere in this country” Time Out Great Britain: Perfect Places to Stay, Eat and Explore 2009.

Of course Nottingham has a Castle. It too holds a fascinating history – although it lacks the ‘look’ of a traditional castle – as it’s not really. It’s a Ducal Palace.

But Nottingham, in my view fails to take full advantage of it. Visitors who come to it (from around the World) are visibly disappointed. The offer is poor.

As part of the work done by the Sheriff’s Commission we have been looking at how we might be able to capitalise on this asset we have. Some great ideas have been put forward – including an archaeological dig. I have always had a view (which is not necessarily shared by the Council) that the art in the Castle should be moved out and the Castle turned over into a Robin Hood Visitor Attraction – and a world class one at that.

What was frustrating last night was watching ‘life’ at a Castle in Northumberland – which doesn’t have the same ‘legendary’ status as we do. But they have captured the imagination and bagged themselves something which we could easily do.

The next meeting of the Sheriff’s Commission – and its advisory board, on which I sit, in a couple of weeks. The Robin Hood film has come and gone – and we aren’t much further forward. We need TimeOut to give us an accolade…

But before we get this we need a quantum leap. And soon. Otherwise we will miss out altogether and this will be a huge missed opportunity.

Robin Hood is back in Nottingham!

Last night I went to the special opening event at Nottingham Castle of the exhibition of Robin Hood film props and costumes.

There were around 100 people gathered, including Robin himself – and the baddy The Sheriff of Nottingham! Robin was banished to the outside whilst the Sheriff welcomed his guests! I stood with my mate John Lyle – both of us making notes for our respective blogs!

We were introduced to a number of people – including the set decorator from the film Sonja Klaus. Everyone was genuinely excited about the exhibition which will run until the end of September – at both Nottingham Castle – but also in Sherwood Forest! There are some of the actual costumes and artefacts from the film – loaned courtesy of Universal and made into a small set.

But I was really interested in the comments made by Jennifer Spencer from Experience Nottinghamshire.

In essence the message from Jennifer was:

1. Nottingham and Nottinghamshire must maximise the opportunities around the launch of the movie
2. We need to aim to have 10% more overnight visitors in 2010 (and a 5% increase in day visitors)
3. Tourism is worth £1.4bn to us! We have 35 million visitors each year
4. A 10% increase in visitors would add £46m to the local economy

But Jennifer also suggested some really interesting facts:

1 in 5 tourists make a visit to a city as a direct result of a film
Visitors are more likely to visit the place portrayed in the film – than the filming location
Hollywood films with their global reach and larger audiences are more likely to have an impact
Films with a strong emotional resonance or where a particular setting plays a key role are particularly effective at drawing tourism

This really is Nottingham’s opportunity to capitalise on Robin Hood. We must do so – and not lose it again. I said in Cannes last week that we seemed reticent sometimes to use the brand – but we shouldn’t be. In difficult times (and I suspect there are more ahead) these sort of opportunities won’t come a long every day! And this is an opportunity.

Nottingham has hosted a number of journalists in the last few weeks – including from France and the USA – each have been impressed with the City. So the word will have started to spread.

But back to Jennifer Spencer – she mentioned that she had been at a Visit England strategy meeting last week – the guest speaker was Joanna Lumley. The message was one of having confidence in our tourism offer – but also looking at the offer through the eyes of a tourist. Some of what we have we take for granted.

We need to shout about we do have – but shout louder about what we don’t – until we get it!

Robin Hood world class visitor attraction here we come…

Nottingham Castle in the winter sun

As I continue to write my presentation for MIPIM I decided to spend an hour at Nottingham Castle yesterday morning.

Nottingham Castle by Jak Garratt

I needed some stock shots – and with the bright blue sky, this was an ideal day! My son, Jak came with me.

Although I am convinced that Nottingham should capitalise on Robin Hood by building a new visitor attraction, there have been doubters. They come from all walks of life. Some write to the Evening Post and bemoan any sort of ambition the City has. Some work for the Council and think that the current Castle is just fine as it is (an Art Gallery). Some people tell me they have heard it all before and nothing will ever happen (the defeatists!). Some believe that only the private sector can get the thing to fly.

My personal view is that Nottingham needs to think big. We do ‘own’ Robin Hood – he doesn’t belong at the side of a runway in Doncaster.

And yesterday, in the sunshine I watched a coach load of tourists arrive. I think they were German! There were Japanese tourists too – trying to get their picture by the statute of Robin Hood. All were talking excitedly in their own mother tongue.

I couldn’t help but wonder though whether they would leave Nottingham feeling ever so slightly let down? The Castle isn’t a real Castle – it’s a Ducal Palace. There’s no real story of Robin Hood being told. There was no Robin Hood and his band of merry men wandering around. This is where we are missing a trick – people want to come and be part of the story.

My son said afterwards that there was ‘nothing there’. Perhaps that’s a bit harsh – but I know what he means. The offer is limited!

With the film coming out in just over two months time – the visitors will not lessen! Now’s the time for the City to get Robin back and make something of him – the benefits for the whole City could be enormous!

Robin Hood at MIPIM 2010

In amongst the chaos of last week I did some “Sheriff’s Commission” work.

Maid Marian aka Cate Blanchett

I have been asked to do a small talk at MIPIM 2010 – explaining the work of the commission. So the pressure is on to get a presentation together. Some of the work I have done before about the lessons we learned from the USA trip is really helpful.

There is also some ‘new’ news to share – Nottingham is to get an exclusive exhibition of the props and artefacts from the new Robin Hood film. The exhibition is being designed by the set designer of the film.

But Nottingham is also having a Robin Hood month during May 2010 – to coincide with the release of the film. There are lots of events planned.

Castle Brewery are making a special Robin Hood brew. And a cheese is apparently fermenting as I blog!

We are also hoping to have the trailer for the film at MIPIM. Rumours that Russell Crowe and Ridley Scott will visit Nottingham are unconfirmed – but this will be a great boost for us.

At last Nottingham is starting to capitalise on the world brand that is Robin Hood. There are lots of ideas emerging – and some big ones for a major attraction. We have a long way to go. MIPIM is an excellent platform on which we can evangelise about the story.

The only thing that I won’t surprise anyone with is that, despite rumours to the contrary – I will not be wearing green tights!

Nor, apparently, is Cate Blanchett making a guest apperance in my talk…I have asked!

UPDATE 5.3.10

See here for the latest edition of Notice Nottingham all about MIPIM, also here specifically about the Sheriffs Commission and my talk!

UPDATE 9.3.10

See the story in tonights Nottingham Evening Post (online here) about the Broadway Cinema – which will be showing films during Robin Hood month.